Mass protests break out across Cuba

Seemingly spontaneous protests broke out in Cuba on July 11, with demonstrations reported across the island—from Pinar del Río in the west to Santiago in the east. In Havana, hundreds gathered along the Malecón seawall, which was the scene of a brief uprising known as the Maleconazo in August 1994, amid the economic agony of the "Special Period." The demonstrators later marched on the iconic Capitolio building. Slogans included "Freedom," "Down with the dictatorship," "We are not afraid," "Homeland and life" (a reference to the official slogan "Homeland or death"), and "Díaz-Canel, singao [jerk, asshole]," a reference to President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Emulating Fidel Castro's response during the Maleconazo, Díaz-Canel went to San Antonio de los Baños, a town outside the capital where the protests began after long power outages, and issued an appeal to "the revolutionary people mobilized against the imperialist campaign and its salaried agents." He concluded: "The order to battle is given: revolutionaries, take to the streets!" In Camagüey, there were reports of security forces opening fire on protesters.

The unprecedented outburst of protest comes as economic conditions in Cuba have deteriorated nearly to the crisis point of the Special Period in the 1990s. The island is also suffering its worst moment in terms of new infections and deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. (Havana Times, Havana Times, Cuba Encuentro14yMedio)

In a televised address, Diaz-Canel blamed the protests on "economic asphyxiation" as well as intentional subversion by the US. It is true that tightened sanctions instated under President Trump have been kept in place by Biden, contributing to harsh austerity on the island. In March, 80 US Democratic representatives urged Biden to repeal Trump's "cruel" sanctions on Cuba and renew engagement. (Reuters, ReutersIn Defense of Marxism)

On June 23,  the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution condemning the United States' six-decade embargo on Cuba. The US and Israel cast the only dissenting votes, with 184 nations voting in favor. The same resolution has passed easily every year since it was first introduced in 1992. Only once, in 2016, did the US, then under the Obama administration, abstain from the vote. (CBS)

The Cuban opposition seems to be itself divided on the question of sanctions. Prominent dissident Eliécer Ávila, who has been live-blogging the protests from Miami, led a counter-protest in Coral Gables on June 27 when Cuban-American activist Carlos Lazo of the group Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love) held a demonstration against the embargo. (CiberCuba) Ávila also garnered controversy last year for his provocative pro-Trump rallies in the Miami area. (El Nuevo Herald, July 28, 2020)

Left dissidents arrested in Cuba

The government of Miguel Díaz-Canel is attacking "critical communists" whose aim is to defend the gains of the Cuban Revolution. Among the arrested in Cuba is Frank García Hernández, a Marxist sociologist and historian, and a member of the Comunistas blog collective. He was arrested along with Marco Antonio Perez Fernandez, a high school student who had also been arrested earlier, on April 30, for carrying a sign that read "Socialism Yes, Repression no!" Also detained was Maikel González Vivero, director of the LGTBQ community publication Tremenda Nota, as well as Mel Herrera, a trans activist. All of these detainees identify as socialists. The whereabouts of Perez and Herrera are unknown. The Comunistas blog published a demand for the freedom of the detainees in Cuba. (Left Voice)

Update on arrest of Cuban Marxists

A report on International Viewpoint (Trotskyist) provides an account of the arrests of Frank García Hernández and Maykel González. Apparently, Maykel was arrested near Revolution Square when police falsely accused him of throwing stones; Frank tried to intercede on his behalf, appealing to the police as a member of the Communist Party, only to be arrested as well. They were both released the following day, July 12, although Frank (at least) is said to be under a "precautionary measure," with his movements restricted. 

US Treasury imposes sanctions on Cuba police force

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of Treasury on July 30 imposed sanctions on the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), and its director and deputy director, Oscar Callejas Valcarce and Eddy Sierra Arias, respectively, for last month's crackdown on pro-democracy protests. (Jurist) Days earlier, OFAC imposed sanctions on Cuban Defense Minister Alvaro Lopez Miera and an entire special forces unit for alleged human rights violations in relation to suppression of the protests. (Jurist)

Cuba: new protests called amid health crisis

As the government speeds up the rollout of domestically produced COVID-19 vaccines, export of the jabs–yet to receive WHO approval–has begun to Vietnam and Venezuela. Needs for other treatments in short supply on the island are being filled by grassroots initiatives. Meanwhile, a civil society group is calling for new protests in November, months after thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against government mismanagement of the economy and health sector. (TNH)

US farmers in Havana protest sanctions

A delegation of US farmers visiting Havana called for lifting Cold War-era restrictions to help ease food shortages in Cuba. The Caribbean country has been grappling with a food crisis for years, but shortages have grown worse due to rising prices linked to the war in Ukraine.The US provides Cuba with much of its food following a 2000 loosening of the sanctions. However, the US refuses to offer the cash-strapped country credit, forcing it to pay for shipments up front. (TNH)

White House announces move to loosen Cuba sanctions

The Biden administration announced May 16 that it will expand flights to Cuba and lift Trump-era restrictions on remittances that immigrants can send to people on the island.

The State Department said in a statement that it will remove the current $1,000-per-quarter limit on family remittances and will allow non-family remittance, which will support independent Cuban entrepreneurs. The US will also allow scheduled and charter flights to locations beyond Havana, according to the State Department.

The administration said will also move to reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program and increase consular services and visa processing. (AP

Cuba appeals to World Food Program to help feed its children

For the first time, the Cuban government has asked the UN World Food Program for help providing powdered milk to children under seven years of age. Cuba is in the midst of a crushing economic crisis. Powdered milk and other basic foods are provided to Cubans at a subsidized price through ration books, but delays and shortages are common. (PRI)